Last year was the first season of the newly formed American Athletic Conference (AAC), which was made up of the teams left over from the Big East and some new additions from Conference USA.
Almost everyone assumed that it would be Teddy Bridgewater and the Louisville Cardinals that would go on to win the inaugural AAC title, but it was the UCF Knights that stole the spotlight. UCF posted a perfect conference record of 8-0. The Cardinals came in 2nd at 7-1, while Cincinnati (6-2) and Houston (5-3) were the only other teams to finish with a winning record.
This year the AAC will undergo even more change, as Louisville departs for the ACC and Rutgers leaves to join the Big Ten, while East Carolina, Tulsa and Tulane will be added from C-USA to make it an 11-team league. Next year Navy will be added to the mix, which will allow them to separate into two divisions with an even 12-teams.
Last year UCF received an automatic bid to a BCS bowl game for winning the American Athletic, but that will no longer be the case. The AAC simply doesn’t have the level of talent to still be considered a power conference.
With the 2014 season less than two weeks away, here’s a quick look at my AAC predictions.
American Athletic Predictions
I believe the American Athletic is going to be a two-team race for the top spot with Cincinnati and Houston. It just so happens that these two teams won’t face off until the regular season finale on Dec. 6 and I look for both schools to come in with a perfect 7-0 record inside conference play, which will essentially set up an unofficial title game.
Due to Cincinnati getting that all important game at home, they are my pick to win the AAC. Unfortunately a couple of non-conference losses to Ohio State and Miami, FL will likely keep Cincinnati from receiving an at-large bid to a BCS Bowl.
As far as the teams who have an outside shot at jumping both Cincinnati and Houston for the league’s top spot, I have three potential candidates in UCF, East Carolina and Memphis.
While the Knights lose just 11 lettermen and have 15 starters coming back, I expect them to have a difficult time replacing star quarterback Blake Bortles and leading rusher Storm Johnson. Without these two to in the mix, I look for UCF to take a big step back offensively and see a reversal in fortune in close games (7 wins in 2013 by a touchdown or less).
What makes East Carolina a threat is the fact that they have arguably the most talented quarterback in the league in Shane Carden. The concern with the Pirates is a defense that has just 4 starters returning.
It might come a surprise that I have Memphis picked to finish in the top half of the league, but I believe the Tigers are poised for breakout season in the 3rd year under head coach Justin Fuente. Memphis has an impressive 17 starters returning from last year. While they went just 3-9 in 2013, all but two of their losses came by less than two touchdowns and both of those were in the final two games after the possibility of making a bowl was out of the question.
The next bunch of teams in the standings are all capable of proving me completely wrong and finishing in the top half. SMU suffered just their 2nd losing season under head coach June Jones and could definitely surprise. However, the Mustangs have an absolutely brutal schedule that I feel will be too much to overcome.
As for Tulsa, USF and Temple, these are three teams that figure to be greatly improved from what they put on the field last year. USF has 15 starters back and just brought in the top recruiting class in the conference, Tulsa also has 15 starters back, including 10 on the defensive side of the ball and Temple has one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the league in sophomore P.J. Walker.
That leaves Tulane and Connecticut to battle it out for the basement. With the Green Wave getting to host the Huskies, I have them rated slightly ahead, but that’s not saying much as that’s the only win I’m giving Tulane inside conference play.
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